Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

For my birthday, Frédéric and his two kitchen elves made me a lovely cake. Benjamin picked out the heart-shaped pan at the store "because it will be the prettiest!" and he and Noah agreed on the frosting colors. Benjamin came up with the inscription all by himself.

And yes, it did taste as good as it looked!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

end of September

Last Friday, the American lady that we met at the Pierrefonds castle when my parents were here came for lunch. She went with me to pick up the boys from school, and take Benjamin back after lunch, and we had a nice walk around the village.

Noah helped Frédéric prepare the homegrown, homemade raspberry syrup to go on the cheesecake I made for dessert that day.

After some major resistance from Benjamin to backwards somersaults at gymnastics Saturday, we broke the old, flattened baby mattress out as an improvised tumbling mat so the boys could practice their somersaults at home. (Are we crazy, or what? That's rhetorical.)

I tried to get them to stand and look cute together before they started tumbling, but, well.

Thank goodness for a faster camera than we used to have.

Here they were all tired out from gymnastics, and were "resting." Or so they told me.

Both boys had an all-day field trip to the forest yesterday. We're still paying for that with Noah - he is definitely not ready for all-day school yet! The highlight of the field trip for Noah seems to have been the picnic lunch and peeing in the forest.

Benjamin must have listened well to the Tourist Office forest guide, because today he showed me a booklet they gave the kids, and explained it all to me.

Frédéric was off work yesterday, so we had the whole day to ourselves! And... spent it doing yard work. Sigh. Frédéric chopped at the hedge, weeds and ivy that had overtaken the back corner of our yard, and I helped him bag it all up to take to the dump. Fourteen yard waste bags later, we are closer to done than when we started... This should make room for a nice, large vegetable garden next year.

Now, if we could just dismantle the garden shed, and the cinderblock shed, and put a shed where the cinderblock one is, so we could see that whole corner from the house... well, let's just say that to-do list is not likely to be the "all-done" list any time soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Now the school year has really begun

You know school has really begun when... the first illness hits. Frédéric & I have been fighting off the first cold of the year this week, thanks to Noah bringing it home to us from preschool. Somehow he was barely sick at all, but it has knocked us out.

Noah loves school. He can't figure out why some of the little kids cry at school. He likes to do his "work" while Benjamin does his homework (so much for the teacher "not being allowed" to give the kids homework-- that didn't last long).

He was very proud of having written "NOAH" here:

And sports have started for both boys. We did give in on the gymnastics thing, so both do gymnastics once a week (pictures of that sooner or later, I'm sure), and Benjamin has swimming lessons once a week through school, and twice a week in the evenings.

The whole pool experience in France is a little weird... men & boys have to wear Speedos, for one thing... for another, swim caps are strongly encouraged, though not actually required at this pool. Also, the swimming instructor is not in the pool with them, and to even go watch the kids swim, you have to wade through about six inches of water (presumably also treated with some disinfectant or other).

Benjamin loves his swimming lessons, and is perfectly at ease in the water.

And the most exciting of all, the work on the bridge in our village is finally done!! We can now go through the village instead of taking the long way around through the forest, which will cut several minutes off our driving time. Yay!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Proud to be an American

This afternoon, Noah was making his Transformer talk to me. In French.
I asked the Transformer why he was speaking French.
It said, "Because" (in English, hmm).

Then I asked Noah whether he spoke English or French.

N: I speak English and French.
Me: Really?! Both? Why?
N: Because < mumble > American.
Me: What? Who's American?
N: Me! I'm in-ter-est-ing!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekend Busy-ness

In all the "excitement" of back to school, I forgot to mention that we got to see friends Roby & Bernadette last Monday. They live in Guadeloupe, and rarely get to visit France, so we hadn't seen Bernadette in 6 years, and Roby in 11 1/2 years - since we were in Guadeloupe in 2000.

We learned the new school set-up. The "maternelles" - 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and kindergartener (yes, singular) - will be with Simon, the maître, who has been Benjamin's (and Noah's) teacher up until now.

The CP & CE1 (1st & 2nd grade) will be with Laetitia, the maîtresse, who had the 2nd through 5th graders up until now.

And the CE2, CM1 & CM2 (3rd, 4th, & 5th graders) will have the new teacher. This is her first real class after a couple of years of long-term substitute teaching, so it may be an adjustment for all of them, but Laetitia, who is also the director, thought this would be better for the 5th graders who will be going to middle school next year and will do well to have some adjustments now, before having to make so many more when they get to middle school.

We are pretty happy with this arrangement, though it does seem like it will make 1st grade more of a graduation into "big kids' world," being with the 2nd graders instead of the little ones. Benjamin sort of knows his new teacher already, and we hope the transition will go smoothly for all.

Apparently they aren't "allowed" to give homework in 1st grade, so that is a relief. We'll see how true that is as the year goes on!

Gymnastics started for Noah. Benjamin preferred to do swimming this year, but started to regret his choice when he was at the gym, watching Noah. And I'm wavering in our "one activity per year" idea...

Our friends from church and their kids came over in the afternoon, and spent the night. It was almost 80° out, so the kids got to play in the pool "one last time" before fall.

We had house church with our friends after breakfast, let the kids ride bikes for a little while, then visited a couple of flea markets in the rain (drastic weather change overnight!), and showed them a few houses for sale in the area in the hopes that they'll buy a country home out our way one of these days.

Cute kids at a rainy flea market! But no one bought them, so we had to bring them home again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NOW the school year can begin

Our morning started off a little crazy over here when Frédéric checked Benjamin's backpack at five minutes til time to leave for school, and realized his correspondance notebook was in there. That is how the teacher sends us information home. To our surprise, he found a note saying swimming class started *today*. So we rushed the boys back upstairs to get them ready, ran around looking for towels and swim caps - only to come back down, re-read, and realize that only the 1st graders got to go due to the overcrowding situation. Augh!

So Noah had to change again, and we had to explain to him why he didn't get to go (after we just told him he was going). On the bright side, Noah got to stay at school the full three hours instead of just one, since the first graders were out of the classroom.

The teacher hadn't had any news yet from the Académie, but told Frédéric the name of the teachers' union website, which I then proceeded to watch closely all day long, refreshing often... and I was finally rewarded this afternoon, when THIS made our day a whole lot better!

That means... we get our third class!! The teacher and teacher/director will be discussing tonight how to split up the grades, and let us know tomorrow, and the new class divisions should start on Monday.

I don't know WHY the Inspector had to wait until three days into the school year to make this decision, but at least we got the answer we wanted!

(Now to pray that the teacher they hire is a good one...!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Drama-Filled Rentrée 2011

Because what fun would back to school be without a little drama?

Drama-free part first... two boys, ready and raring to go! (Complete with jackets because it is back to cold here... if we ever had summer - not so sure we did - it is apparently officially over.)

And we had a rainy drive to school.

A rainy, rural drive, even more rural-looking than usual since our village is still closed due to the work on the bridge in the middle of it, so we have to take the back way through the forest and the fields.

Noah sat right down to do a puzzle, he had no problem feeling at home. This is what he has been waiting for, and we had no doubts he would do well.

Benjamin found his spot, too, and is very proud of being a "big" first grader this year.

However... (drama-filled part here):

I'm afraid that yesterday was NOT the day we hoped and longed for over the past three and a half years. Granted, we did get silence at home which was blissful. But the bliss pretty much ended there.

We've had a bit of a population explosion in the villages. As many of you know, the boys attend a one-room schoolhouse which goes from 3-year-old preschool through first grade. There are about 14 kids in the 4-year-old preschool class, which last year was an adjustment when they were in the 3-year-old class, since normal class size here is about 5 or 6. This year, there are also about 13 kids in the 3-year-old class. Add one kindergartener and about 9 first-graders, and we are up to a whopping 37 kids, for one teacher, and one aide.

Entirely too many kids in one room, in other words - and several times worse once you count in the age range.

There are 26 kids in 2nd through 5th grades.

The upper grades' teacher's husband called over the weekend to inform us of the situation and explain that we, the parents, needed to complain to the Inspection Académique and ask them to open a third class - something that is entirely possible from our point of view because we have a renovated schoolhouse in our village (which the Inspection changed from "closed for renovation" to "closed forever" without informing ANYONE, even the mayor of the village), and because there are 20-some jobless teachers in the department.

The inspection refused the request when it came from the teachers, and the teachers consulted their union, who said they are powerless to change anything, only with parental involvement *might* things get changed.

Accordingly, I worked long and hard on my letter... only for my printer to decide it was finally, utterly, and undebatably out of black toner just before I printed the letter. And it refused to print the letter even if I changed it to blue. So I had to hand-write the whole thing out instead.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw that other parents hadn't even bothered to write a letter at all, but signed the photocopied form letters someone else had prepared. Sigh.

Due to the overcrowding, the teacher requested that parents of 3-year-olds pick them up after only an hour if possible. Another great dilemma for us, because I *do* work, but I work from *home*... what to do.

This type of situation is all too common in the villages in France. To look on the "bright" side, we're lucky to be on the side of a refusal to open a new class rather than the Inspection telling us they are closing an entire class.

We hope for a response from the Inspection today, though we have no idea what form the response will take.

Had we known earlier that this would be an issue, we could have just kept Noah home this year (although that would just put the problem off for a year) - but he has his heart set on going to school now...

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I don't know what on earth we will do with 2 1/2 entirely kid-free hours four days a week, but believe me, we will not be the parents wiping away tears when we take Benjamin and Noah to school on Monday...

Benjamin is starting 1st grade ("CP" or "cours préparatoire") and is very proud. Noah is dismayed to be in "petite section" because "je suis grand !" ("I am big!") He will only go mornings since in petite section they take a nap in the afternoon anyway, may as well do that at home.

*I* am a little dismayed at the lack of people other than me they have to speak English with, but with Benjamin coming home from school speaking French for the past two years, there wasn't really any point of keeping Noah out the first year like we did Benjamin. Noah is starting school a grade lower but only three months younger than Benjamin did, and our little live wire needs some social interaction - and Mommy and Daddy need a break!

They will both be in the same classroom, because the lower grades' one-room-schoolhouse setup includes 3-year-old preschool (petite section), 4-year-old preschool (moyenne section), Kindergarten (grande section), and 1st grade (CP). So they both already know the teacher well, Benjamin from his 4-year-old preschool and kindergarten days, and Noah from going to take Benjamin and pick him up every day.

Right now, they're busy getting in the last of their all-day-long playtime. Benjamin made a Duplo city a few days ago that he insisted I take a picture of - complete with train station, of course.

Pictures lie... our days are not like this lately... hence our anxiously awaiting the first day of school for some peace and quiet!

This was my comic relief the other day. Noah came into my office to show my his socks... or rather, MY socks that he picked out of the laundry basket. Frédéric didn't see anything amiss at all. Actually, they weren't all that much too big for him! I guess that is what I get for not putting the laundry away.

We moved our half-buffet into the kitchen as a makeshift island to see whether we will have room for an island when we redo the kitchen or not. So far it is a great success, and serves as a perfect worktable when children beg to help cook.

Good little French children eating their "oeufs à la coque" (soft-boiled eggs that you dip bits of bread in). Do American kids eat this weird stuff? They certainly didn't get this one from me.